Exposed (GM 1973)
Misunderstood (GM 1974)
"So close and yet so far"
"Strider was a great little band," says drummer Tony Brock from his home in LA. "We were a regular at the Marquee in London, selling out just about every time we played there."
In the annals of Rock history this little known band from London's thickly crowded club scene were an all to brief footnote. A charming lot, they played an excellent brand of hard-rock blues in league with Status Quo, Deep Purple, Humble Pie and Free. Their legacy post-Strider far out lived their feeble existence as a band and it is only through shear determination we have resurrected them for this piece.
You see, often times the bargain bin does yield the occasional gem. It was from there Strider first landed on my turntable. The fascination soon turned to physical dependence when the powerhouse chords and swirling keyboards plowed through 'Flying' the opening track off "Exposed." The record hit the shops during a prolific period in the winter month of February 1973. It mirrored much of what was changing in blues-based rock. Humble Pie was moving more into the mainstream with "Smokin." Foghat had just released their debut with the Willie Dixon penned cover 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' getting serious airplay on the FM dial. Zeppelin was still burning on the "Zoso" aftermath. Most notable, was the impact left by the wake of the Rolling Stones 'Exile On Main Street' which seemed to permeate every record for the next two years.
So it was that Strider took their best club show and committed it to 40-minutes of vinyl. At the time the band consisted of Ian Kewley (vocals, keyboard), Gary Grainger (guitar), Lee Hunter (bass) and Jimmy Hawkins (drums). Produced by Jimmy Horowitz, a bit of a piano player himself, having worked with Andy Bown and Long John Baldry, he brought to the band elements of Wishbone Ash 'Argus'-era finesse. (Later Horowitz would go on to work with Bad Company during the recording of 'Straight Shooter' as string arranger and much later would be linked to Air Supply during their 'Love & Other Bruises,' 1977 era.) The result was a tight R&B band with a fierce guitar sound.
Where other bands of similar standing were dousing the club patrons with gallons of American blue-rock; Strider opted to soak them with soulful rhythm and blues. Of the seven songs on their debut two were soul covers: Jackie Wilson classic 'Higher And Higher' and the Temptations 'Get Ready,' the later becoming a stoned out jam with some searing guitar melee closing down the second side. Ian Kewley wrote on the records liner notes, "I think we should have started on the second album first, Then we'd have been better prepared to make the first." But people dug the grit and the aforementioned 'Flying' was a hit straight out of the box bringing offers to play Reading and open for Status Quo and Rory Gallagher.
"Strider was the band to go see," remembers the group's second drummer Tony Brock. "They had this hard rock magic that would just pull people in. Folks would come just to watch the band and dig the energy." With the crowds came the party and Strider could party! Know for getting completely trashed before a gig, the four-piece would score big, stumble on stage and still deliver a rough an ready set. "We had this thing with beer," laughs Brock. " One night at the Marquee, they were trying to close up and we were up to our knees in beer with no clothes on playing into the wee hours."
With a six pack or two tucked under the dash and clouds of Jamaican hash billowing out of the van, Strider roamed across the countryside on a loose University circuit. "Our fans were amazing," says Brock who had replaced Hawkins on the drum stool by then. "They followed us everywhere. They were also good to bounce new songs off of - a good barometer." By the second record, "Misunderstood" (1974) several personnel changes had occurred. Aside from Brock replacing Hawkins, Lee Strzelczyk took over bass duties for Lee Hunter and Rob Elliott stepped in to sing under the Marquee spotlight.
"When I was in the band, they had turned into a great, fun band," says Brock "I have the fondest memories of those years. We worked really hard but we also partied like crazy. We tried not to let it effect our playing but we were a young bunch of lads living life." The party took on a whole new vibe when Strider landed the opening slot for the Faces. "Holy Shit! That was a fun tour! We got along like old schoolmates. It was amazing every night."
'Flying' was the band's anthem song and the set favorite - even though the new platter offered eight new compositions. But with only 16 songs in their repertoire, extended jams and the occasional R&B cover fleshed out the set. "Gary was a huge Pete Townsend freak," recalls Brock. "He would whirl his arm just like Pete to the point of being dangerous. It made us all a bit nervous. There would be many a night the drum kit would go flying with the guitar through it." However, it was the group's tight show that brought out respect from their peers. The Faces, Status Quo, Humble Pie all tuned up to watch them play.
The summer of 1974 saw the band take to the Reading stage. It was their most developed set yet filled with 'Ain't Got No Love', 'Esther's Place', 'Straddle', 'Wing Tips', 'Open Your Eyes', 'Misunderstood' and the extended jam 'Woman Blue.' "The show in Reading was so windy," says Brock. "Ian went to take a slash off the stage and the wind blew it all over - by the end of the set he was throwing his keyboard into the audience. But we were spectacular, especially in those days, no one was doing it as well." Strider made it on the festival's Ron Nevison produced LP along with Rory Gallagher, Greenslade, Status Quo, the Faces, Leslie Duncan and Tim Harding.
However, the band had reached their plateau. Rod Stewart was pulling to have Grainger join his band. John Waite and Michael Corby were badgering Brock to hook up with their, as yet, untitled project (Babys) and Rob Elliott wanted out. Disenchantment set in leading to conflicts then complete collapse.
"It was too bad," says Brock. "We would feed off each other and when we locked in we were one of the finest rock 'n roll bands going. So when it got to be to much we just called it a day and went on to other projects."
Next time you pass a used bin, take a gander at what's inside. If you see Strider - it's certainly worth checking out. For those interested, here's what happened to the main characters of our story.
Ian Kewley went on to play in Limey and Paul Young before resurfacing on the Manic Street Preachers "Gold Against the Soul" (1993).
Gary Grainger went on to work with Rod Stewart for almost ten years then Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle respectively.
Tony Brock was the most prolific with stints in the Babys, Eddie Money, Rod Stewart for ten years then on to Australian wild man Jimmy Barnes.